This post was originally published on my old website matt-burgess.co.uk and originally was written in early 2012.
When the University of Sheffield gym swimming pool closed for repairs at the end of 2010, the news didn’t really concern me.
Over a year and a half later I’ve written, read and overseen thousands of words on the matter, sent countless emails and poured more hours than I’ve had free into the gym – and my body still isn’t enhanced.
In the coming months there were scores of people complaining about the swimming pooling closing, the biggest concern was that people weren’t receiving a lot of money for a refund. The other concern was that people did not even know they cold get a refund for the closure.
September 2011 swathe possibility to get a refund taken away, without all members being informed.
This led to the moment when we found the gym had broken it’s contract with members – a campaign was launched to get money back for those who should have already received it.
The campaign attracted attention city wide.
A Facebook page was set up for people to join and support members getting refunds, which saw local members of the public join and support the cause.
Local councillors pledged their support on Twitter. The Students’ Union council gave their backing as did the full council of Sheffield, who wrote to the University, which gave tremendous weight to the campaign, also local press covered the issue as well.
A couple of weeks later I had a call from the Liberal Democrats in Sheffield asking for a quote on the fact the Uni had changed its mind.
This was news to me, no one from the University had been in touch with an official line and there was confusion to what had happened when I called the Uni.
Overall they had changed their policy, members were going to be allowed refunds and the Uni was contacting them all to offer the refund. We had won.
To date It is one of the things I am most proud of since becoming the Editor of Forge Press.
We managed to change the way a huge institution worked.
The University of Sheffield has over 25,000 students and about 5000 members of staff, to change the opinion of the University and for them to go back on their previous decision was a huge achievement of all those involved.
But the real issue here is showing that journalism, even at a grass roots level (although we don’t like to think it is), can make a difference for the people it is there to represent.
Most newspapers will run campaigns at some point in their runs but it isn’t often that they succeed. They’ll most often be used to bring something to the attention of their readers and nothing else will happen.
If I am honest I thought it was very unlikely that our campaign would succeed, it isn’t easy to make a large institution change its position.
I believe one of they key things that helped us to be successful is that we picked our battle carefully, it wasn’t a rash decision to step up against such a powerful body.
The other successful factor was that we had clearly found a wrong doing, in the reach of contract. This allowed people to unite behind the cause no matter their political stance or affiliation,which is where a lot of campaigns meet their downfall.
More than a year and a half has passed since we started covering the swimming pool closure, hopefully now it has been put to rest and the University has learnt some lessons from the situation.
Just because you’re a powerful body it doesn’t always mean people are going to roll over and let things pass.
Even if nothing has changed in their mindset, I certainly know myself and the rest of the team have learnt a lot from the campaign